gerow at ynu.ac.jp
Thu Jan 10 22:26:20 EST 2002
>>People were asking about the criticial reception of Go--well, here's one
>>indicator. I personally have big problems with the film's politics
>What were those problems?
Well, maybe it's just me, but as a zainichi movie it has a lot of
problems. I certainly understand the original author Kaneshiro Kazuki's
effort to move the zainichi issue away from the established master
narratives (South vs. North, Korean vs. Japanese) and speak to a
generation less concerned with politics and less sure of the certainties
of identity. But with the film I felt weird identifying with Sugihara
(Kubozuka). The film works hard to make us identify with him (heck, many
of us would like to have Shibasaki Ko as our girlfriend!), but I couldn't
help thinking about the problem of having lots of Japanese young people,
who know nothing of the zainichi issue, vicariously identifying with a
zainichi. Perhaps they identify with him as a part of a lot of the
larger negotiations over identity going on in contemporary Japanese youth
culture (preferring blackness, for instance, over Japaneseness);
Sugihara's call to destroy boundaries has its appeal for hemmed in
Japanese. But I think the main reason we identify him is generic:
basically, the film just borrows the structures of the young rebel/teen
romance film (from James Dean on) and sticks in a zainichi, without much
regard for the crucial differences between these contexts. In other
words, people identify with Sugihara not because he is zainichi, but
because he is a cool teen rebel. The film is never self-critical about
these generic structures of identification, or about these feelings of
coolness, and thus never really questions its Japanese spectators and
their role in oppressing zainichi. Frankly, it just seems like more
nationalist consumption of the Asian Other. I could add more about how
the film is, in the end, fairly conservative (Sugihara's parents end up
being good people), but let's leave that for another day.
Anyway, I append my Daily Yomiuri review below:
Directed by Isao Yukisada
Starring: Yosuke Kubozuka, Ko Shibasaki, Tsutomu Yamazaki, Shinobu Otake
It used to be that all traces of Korean presence were erased from
Japanese film. Even though hundreds of thousands of Koreans remained in
Japan after World War II, the manifestations of their reality, from
Korean names to hangul words, were long kept out of Japanese cinema.
That was only one manifestation of the enduring discrimination
perpetuated against Koreans by Japanese society. It was as if, if you
don't like them, refuse to acknowledge their existence. In turn, even
Korean-born celebrities like Rikidozan, the pro wrestler who became a
Japanese hero in the 1950s, had to hide the fact they were Korean.
While discrimination against resident (zainichi) Koreans is far from
over, the lines have changed on the pop culture front. Yakuza films
began to feature zainichi characters early on, Nagisa Oshima produced
such cinematic protests against discrimination as Death by Hanging
(Koshikei, 1968), and now even zainichi directors like Yoichi Sai can
take up the life of Koreans in Japan in both serious and humorous tones
in commercial movies.
In the most recent example, Go, based on the award-winning novel by
zainichi writer Kazuki Kaneshiro, takes up the Koreans-in-Japan issue in
what could best be called a mass-marketed young love romance. For better
or for worse, being zainichi has become cool.
The story centers on Sugihara (Yosuke Kubozuka), a rebellious zainichi
youth who, against the protests of his teachers at Korean school (run for
students with North Korean citizenship), decides to transfer to a regular
Japanese institution. There he is subject to virulent discrimination,
but as the son of a boxer who received not a small amount of "training"
from his father, he is able to stand his own and even win a certain
amount of popularity through his fists.
A beautiful, free-spirited girl by the name of Sakurai (Ko Shibasaki)
even begins aggressively approaching him. Soon Sugihara is in love, but
Sakurai does not know he is a zainichi Korean. This eventually creates
problems since her father has taught her from day one that Koreans are
dirty and vulgar.
There is a lot in Go condemning Japanese attitudes towards zainichi, but
as Sugihara's narration humorously emphasizes at certain points in the
film, this is supposed to be a love story. Thus Sugihara's intellectual
friend Jungil can eloquently express the dilemmas of second- or
third-generation zainichi, born and raised in Japan but forced by both
parents and Japanese society, for different reasons, to act Korean. But
many of these obstacles, once placed in the youth romance genre, become
the stock hurdles the lovers must cross to be united.
In the final analysis, Go works quite well as a love story. One
genuinely feels for Sugihara when his love for Sakurai hits a brick wall
and few recent Japanese youth movies, it seems, have been as compelling
When addressing the Korean issue, however, Go ultimately fails as a
zainichi film. It is true that director Isao Yukisada was probably not
aiming at a social problem movie, like those made in the dozens by the
old Japanese left. One worries, however, about the zainichi issue
becoming simply a prop for a romance primarily aimed at Japanese
True, this is a different age. Just as Kaneshiro, echoing the general
distaste of Japanese youth for over-serious politics, makes his novel
refreshingly light and comedic, Yukisada focuses on a Sugihara who has no
interest in the political mind-set of his elders. While his Korean
teachers tried to preserve the purity of identity, he just wants, in his
words, to "erase national borders."
This is more cool pose than radical action, however. Given how the film
rather conservatively supports Sugihara's parents' efforts on his behalf,
his proclamations at the end about the emptiness of his identity are more
fashionable than analytical, speaking more to Japanese desiring escape
from Japanese norms than to zainichi realities.
Frankly, caught in the web of Yukisada's somewhat over-manipulative
style, I thought Sugihara was damn cool at the conclusion, so much so
that I wished I could experience a moment like his on my own. That's the
power of Go as a youth romance. But when audiences hope to become hip
zainichi, one wonders if Japanese cinema's long-time problem with Koreans
has only gotten more confused.
International Student Center
Yokohama National University
Hodogaya-ku, Yokohama 240-8501
E-mail: gerow at ynu.ac.jp
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